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Youth literature in Arab countries

The example of Lebanon: revival & permanence

By Mathilde Chèvre

In Lebanon, in Beirut more exactly, fifteen children’s publishers have been created since 2000. Their production is added to that of other publishers created in the 1950′s and 60′s and is behind a true editorial spring for the youth.
This spring finds its roots in a need to write history, both past and future, in childhood and as part of a quest for identity “reconstruction”. It is also the result of the return to Lebanon of a generation trained abroad during the war and endowed with an innovative perception as young readers and children. Finally, it emanates from a fashion, the after-war economic boom and the resulting financial stakes.
The major themes of Arab youth literature are revisited: the Palestinian question goes from the call for armed struggle to the demand for respecting and applying international law; the moral of the story is evolving. The child, traditionally perceived as being malleable and who has to be correctly educated and avoid evil which is “by nature” temptation, becomes a responsible and well intentioned being, who must be spoken to and trusted. New themes also emerge, with the birth of heroines, children’s sentimentality, the ecology, preserving heritage, poetic books …
This editorial and thematic spring is accompanied by a structural revival with the creation of networks of libraries, inaugurations of youth book fairs, the appearance of trade union training courses, the opening of specialist bookstores, the birth of a critical review and an information website dedicated to literary youth news, the inauguration of the first training course in book trades in the Arab world …

It is an exciting, flourishing literary spring!

Sometimes, however, we may wonder about the power of these innovative and creative forces faced with the weight of recurring and permanent difficulties for publishing in general and youth literature in particular: difficulties implementing public policies and legitimising government action, difficulties in setting up groups. The great flaw in Lebanese, Arab, youth and all other types of publishing lies in its dissemination and distribution, and more generally access to audiences of readers.

This presentation of revivals full of meaning and oppressive persistence in publishing for the Lebanese youth will be the occasion to open up the debate on innovative forces and redundant deficiencies in youth publishing and literature across the Arab world.

Mini bibliography:

AL-CHAYKH Abd al-Qâdir b, “Harakiyyat al-kitâb wa l-mutâla‘a fi l-mujtama‘ât al-‘arabiyya” (The book and reading in Arab societies), in Nadwat al-kitâb al-‘arabî (Conference on the Arab book), Société tunisienne de diffusion, Tunis, 1976, p. 166-167

Auteurs, illustrateurs, éditeurs de livres de jeunesse au Liban, Ministry of Culture, Beirut, 2006

ELLABBÂD Mohieddine,
Hikâyat al kitâb (History of the book), Dâr al-Shorouq, Cairo, 2003
• The review Nazar !, Al ‘Arabî li l-Nachr wa al-Taouzî‘, Cairo, N°1 à 5, 2003 à 2007
• “La littérature de jeunesse dans les pays arabes : perspectives historiques
et enjeux actuel”, in Takam Tikou, Bulletin de La joie par les livres, Paris, N°9, February 2002, p.21-25
• “Plaidoyer pour un renouveau de la littérature de jeunesse arabe”, in Takam Tikou, bulletin de la Joie par les livres, Paris, N°11, October 2004, p.14-16

Hamzet Wasl, Review of children’s books in Lebanon, N° 0 – 5, Autumn 2004 to Winter 2006 (quarterly publication), then Qira’ât Saghîra, Review of Youth Books in Lebanon, N° 1 in 2007 to date.

Illustrateurs arabes de livres pour enfants, catalogue of the exhibition organised by the Institute of the Arab World from 13 June to 31 August 2003, IMA, Paris, 2003

JACQUEMOND Richard, Entre scribes et écrivains. Le champ littéraire dans l’Égypte contemporaine, Sindbad /Actes Sud, Arles, 2003

L’édition pour la jeunesse dans les pays arabes, La joie par les livres, Paris, 2006

• Le Livre et la Ville. Beyrouth et l’édition arabe, Sindbad /Actes Sud, Arles, 2005
• “Les habits neufs de l’édition arabe”, in Mondialisation et nouveaux médias dans l’espace arabe, Maison de l’Orient et de la Méditerranée, Maisonneuve & Larose, Paris, 2003

VAN der LINDEN Sophie, Lire l’album, Atelier du poisson soluble, Le Puy-en-Velay, 2006